Film ID:
YFA 5853



Visitor Tabs


A documentary using archive photographs and readings from the period which  portrays the decline of lead mining in Swaledale in the second half of the nineteenth century, painting a bleak picture of the lives of the lead miners who bargained as individuals for work.  It also focuses on the efforts of Sir George Denys to keep lead mining going.  The programme was orginally transmitted 18/04/1976.

The film begins showing a barren landscape dotted with abandoned lead mines, now in ruins.  The commentary explains how those who worked in the mines were subject to bronchial infections and rheumatism, and other diseases, which often led to an early death. Part of a Report of the Poor Law Commission into the conditions of the miners in the Yorkshire Dales from 1841 is read out.  The landscape is seen from the air, showing the effects of the mining around Gunnerside, with areas where the grass doesn’t grow.  The commentary provides a brief history of lead mining, giving an account of its decline in the latter half of the nineteenth century as reserves become harder to mine and the price of lead dropped. The commentary states that in those areas, “the fortunes of the miners were the fortunes of all”, and that “hope and adversity were equally shared”.   

An extract is read from a letter of 1861 co-authored by a group of miners asking for equal pay for all.  There are many archive photos, as the independent mentality of the miners is explained, stating that they used to bargain directly with the small number of families who owned the land, selling themselves to the highest bidder; making them in effect self-employed.  The commentary gives an account of those who would invest in the mines, focusing on Sir George Denys, who was the most optimistic of finding new seams of lead.  We are shown his house, Draycott Hall, in the hamlet of Fremington, between Reeth and Grinton in Swaledale.  There is an enactment of someone plotting areas to mine on a drawing board.  A diagram shows the Sir Francis level, a vein of lead.  Investors disputed what reserves there were.

A new school is opened, and it is stated that the children enjoy good health, and a list of the subjects that they are taught in school is read out, again with archive photos.  It is explained that the miners were free to work for whoever they chose, yet many also had a small-holding, and could work the land when times were not so good.
In 1877 a new vein of lead is opened up, and archive photos show images of the mining community at the time, including brass bands, fairs at Leyburn and Kirkby Stephen, tea parties, cricket and football teams.  However, the situation soon changed, as men were laid off, and those in work were on starvation wages, some unable to pay their rent.  Some of the casualties of the poor working conditions are read out. In 1904 an explosion led to the closure of the Sir Francis level, and in 1906 the Old Gang Mining Company went into liquidation. 

Narrator - Frank Windsor
Voices – John Barrett, Norman Jones, Graham Roberts, John Linstrum
Technical Advisor – Bernard Jennings
Camera – Peter Jenkins, Frank Pocklington
Dubbing Mixer –Terry Cavagin
Editor – Robin Biggar
Writer and Director – Geoffrey Martin
Executive Producer – John Fairley
Yorkshire Television

The producers wish to acknowledge the assistance of:
The Beamish Hall Museum, Lawrence Baker Esq., Bradford Barton Esq., Edward cooper Esq., Robert t Clough ARIBA, Leeds City Library, Eaby Mine Research Group and members of the Denys family.